Clarity and Cognac

Archibald poured the cognac from an elegant decanter into a tulip-shaped glass. He smiled slightly as he picked it up and admired the color. Taking a sip, he made his way across his study to his high-backed leather chair. There were small tables on either side of the chair piled high with documents that he had accumulated over the last few weeks. Military reports from his generals in the field, intelligence gathered from agents in foreign lands, a couple of essays written by the most learned clerics in Slothjemia, and a number of personal correspondences from other members of the Council of Schönbrunn. Sitting down, Archibald took another sip and set the glass down on the only available surface among the pile of papers.

As the Herzgraf of Slothjemia the main job Archibald had was to serve as the commander-in-chief of the military. But he was also the leader of Slothjemia’s delegation to the Council of Schönbrunn and it was in this capacity that he had begun to try and piece together what was happening in the world at large. Everyone on the council was concerned with the rise of Callidus Magna and his so-called Fourth Imperium. There was a theory that circulated stating that this coalition of Forkanzan city-states and the Diosian Lodge of the Sikilian provinces of southeastern Partum were going to try and reclaim all territory formerly owned by the Third Imperium before expanding even more. Archibald felt this theory was reasonable, and would give clues as to how best to counter these theoretical conquests. Fanolania, Slothjemia, and parts of Geldenreich were all potential targets, as were the Illyrian city-states and the Torkan Caliphates. Here is where the trouble began.

Most of the member states of the Council of Schönbrunn had been at war with the Torkan Caliphates for decades. Had they to choose they probably would have wanted to side with anyone tackling this common foe. However, there was considerable alarm at doing anything to further the cause of Callidus Magna. This meant that while they had to resist the Fourth Imperium at all costs should they themselves be threatened, they may even have to side with those abominable Torkans and their ilk if it came down to it.

But there was another issue that vexed Archibald. While conquest was all fine and good, there must surely be more to the picture than this. What little was known of Callidus Magna suggested that this seemingly immortal creature had more at stake than pillaging and annexing a handful of neighboring countries. But what else was going on? Thumbing through the papers on one of the tables, Archibald found a letter and pulled it out to reread it. It was from a commander along the border with the Diosians. It detailed a raid that had been undertaken by a Slothjemian paladin and a company of marines. They had slipped across the border in order to assess the enemy positions and gather data on their strength when they ran headlong into a fight. The paladin was mortally wounded and the marines managed to get him back to Slothjemian territory before he succumbed to his wounds. A chaplain was able to restore his to life, however, and the newly restored holy warrior recounted what had happened when he had crossed over into the great beyond.

The man had expected to have been met with some sort of divine reception given his devotion and calling as a paladin. But instead of the paradise he was anticipating he was met with a nightmarish hellish landscape in which his surroundings were warped and twisted in shadow and darkness. Everywhere were red-eyed terrors that whispered horrible and profane things as they closed in threateningly on the bewildered warrior. This was not the reward he had been expecting, and when revived to life by the chaplain he was no longer a paladin but a broken man. The experience had utterly destroyed his faith and shaken him to his very core. He was still a marine, but he now forsook his oath to the Church and turned his back on things spiritual.

Archibald finished his cognac and rifled through more of the papers. Callidus Magna was up to something far more terrible and evil than conquering the known world. Archibald felt as though there were greater things at stake and he needed to find out what the threat really was. He began to sort through the pages and one by one set them aside in another pile. Here was a report from a foreign agent that the Archduke of Maelonbourg had a phylactery for the all-to-frequent occurrence of his repeated untimely demises. Another report from the same agent that indicated Callidus Magna had some sort of representative that was able to interact with people recently slain in some sort of quasi-plane of existence. A report from the Fanolanians that undead had been unleashed upon their armies by a lich that called himself the “Green King” but who was better known as the Viceroy. An undead dragon that had seemingly vanished from Forêt Verte, a banshee terror that managed to wipe out an entire band of adventurers, and a massive victory from Slothjemia’s allies in the north that had seen a massive army of the Fallen Knights of Lotharingia defeated but no indication that the Viceroy was anything but delighted by his reported loss.

Archibald’s eyes widened. He set the papers down, and rubbed his mouth with his hand. That was what Callidus was up to. The Council would need to be informed immediately.